After hundreds of salmonella outbreaks and several hospitalisations in Belgium were linked to Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs in May, Ferrero claims to have determined what caused the contamination of its products.
The General Manager of Ferrero France, Nicolas Neykov, admits it is “the biggest product recall of the last twenty years” in an interview with Le Parisien on Thursday, as more than 3,000 tonnes of Kinder products have been recalled from the French market since the beginning of April.
Ferrero has faced a major financial impact, as the scandal will cost them around “several tens of millions of euros”, according to Neykov. Over the Easter period alone, usually a peak period for the Italian manufacturer, the brand lost 40% of its usual turnover.
Dairy butter tank
According to their investigations, the contamination would come from “a filter located in a dairy butter tank” of the Arlon factory in Belgium, which was shut down in early April.
The salmonella bacteria would have been caused by contaminated raw materials or people, according to Ferrero.
On 15 December the first case of salmonella was detected. Meanwhile, the investigation in Arlon is ongoing.
“On December 15, we stopped all the production lines, we closed the factory, we threw away what had been manufactured,” Neykov explains.
All of the tests in the following days turned out negative, which allowed them to reopen the factory. “At that time, we were absolutely certain that no contaminated product has been put on the market,” he claims.
“What happened afterwards? The investigation will tell,” said Neykov, as Belgian justice opened a judicial investigation in April.
Neykov explains that it was only on 2 April that the English authorities established a statistical correspondence with the consumption of Kinder surprise, pushing the group to recall its products in Great Britain as well as France the next day.
Regain consumer trust
Meanwhile, the brand estimates that 60% of its consumers no longer trust Ferrero products and aims to play the transparency card in hopes of gaining back their clientele.
After launching a platform for complaints, the company received more than 150,000 requests for compensation, of which 90% have been “satisfied” in the form of reduction vouchers on any food product or Kinder purchase vouchers, says the general manager.
That represents a cost of less than €2 million for the group.
Back to business
Ferrero wants to restart production as soon as possible and has requested the reopening of its Belgian factory from 13 June.
The company, which has recognised its shortcomings, announces that 50% of health checks will be carried out by an approved external laboratory, while “for now” everything is based on an internal self-checking system.
A plan was also presented to the Belgian health authorities on 4 May, saying 1,000 employees of the factory are working seven days a week when it reopens. “10,000 parts will be dismantled and cleaned one by one,” the proposal reads.